D.J. Pettway on Wednesday became a part of a celebrated recruiting class at the University of Alabama.
He knows this second welcoming was hardly a guarantee.
"I was surprised, excited, humbled, eager, anything you can think of," said Pettway, who spoke to the media for the first time since signing with UA out of East Mississippi Community College in December. "I was just ready. I always wanted to be here and it was my first love, the University of Alabama, since high school. I loved it when I was here and I'm glad I'm able to be back."
Pettway, who initially signed with Alabama out of Pensacola (Fla.) Catholic High in 2011, was brought back less than a year after being dismissed from the team by head coach Nick Saban due to his involvement in an alleged robbery of two UA students.
Pettway admitted involvement in the crimes according to depositions filed UA police officers and was charged with two counts of second-degree robbery. Because Pettway was granted youthful offender status, the outcome of his case has not made public.
All four UA players involved were dismissed, but only Pettway was given the opportunity to return.
"It was a university decision," Saban said on Dec. 23, shortly after it was announced that Pettway signed with the Crimson Tide. "When this all happened, the die was cast for all of the characters. The university made some things that this particular guy could do, and if he did all those things, they would look at letting him back in school. He did all those things. He wanted to come back.
"We made a decision that we wanted him back. We know D.J. Pettway very well. He certainly made a mistake in terms of what he did. We felt that this one person, because he did the things he was required to do, deserved a second chance."
That second chance also comes with a change in perspective. He said he was not promised a return to Alabama, and that his contact with the UA coaching staff didn't begin until November, well into his junior college All-American campaign at EMCC. That's when Pettway said he told Saban "That I always wanted to be (at Alabama) and I'd do anything to come back."
"And I thank him for letting me come back," Pettway said.
Pensacola Catholic High coach Greg Seibert, who has kept in regular contact with Pettway since he graduated in 2011, has already seen his mindset change.
"I think the best way to characterize the way D.J. is approaching life now is with a great degree of gratitude," Seibert said. "That will really color every step he takes from now on. From the perspective of being very grateful, not only to the football program but to the university for giving him a second chance.
"He is 'older' now than last year and two years ago in terms of experience, looking at the big picture, understanding the opportunity he had, the opportunity he almost lost and the opportunity that presents itself now, I think the way he navigates daily life will be much keener than your average 21 or 22 year old."
And it's this second chance - the arrival, the dismissal and the ability to return - that has taught Pettway the most.
"I've learned that to be more courageous," Pettway said when asked what he's learned in his year away from Tuscaloosa. "If I see anything or I've been around anything or anything bad is happening around me, I want to stop it. I'm willing to step forward. I'm willing to be the man to make a change or whatever. I'm willing to help anyone around here and any of my teammates.
"I've learned to just be more positive, think about things and be more grateful."